51. Point of View Part 3: First-Person Cons

Author: Nola Published: 3 months ago.
Tags: POV, first-person, point of view, voice, author intrusions, show don't tell Category: Writing tips

In Part 2 of this series, I looked at the advantages of using first-person POV. However, there are also some potential problems to consider.

Limited Viewpoint

If you’re showing everything from the POV of your main protagonist, you can only share what they experience (i.e. what they see, hear, smell, taste, think or feel). That may give you direct access to the character, but it’s a biased perspective. Everything is filtered through one person’s eyes.

There are also logistical issues in that your protagonist can’t be everywhere at once. In some cases, you can rewrite a scene so that your character is on the spot when a key event happens. However, be careful that your situations don’t become contrived or stretch coincidence to the limit. Your protagonist can gather information from other sources (e.g. letters, news reports, conversations, second-hand accounts). The modern Nancy Drew, Girl Detective books, published from 2004-2012, are good examples. They’re written in first-person from Nancy’s perspective, but she always manages to find the evidence she needs to crack the case. Multiple first-person POV would also solve the problem of limited perspective, but I’ll discuss the pros and cons of that next week.

Understanding, Identification and Voice

Last week, I noted that first-person POV can help us to understand characters and identify with them. First-person also gives us the character’s unique voice. However, these advantages can backfire if not handled well. Imagine your protagonist has committed a series of grisly murders or other despicable acts. The audience may feel uncomfortable reading ‘I’ and ‘me’, almost as if they’re implicated. An uninteresting voice can also wear thin quicker than you can turn the page. If readers don’t want to identify with your character, for whatever reason, they’re unlikely to finish the book.

Introspection Overload

Author and editor Jodie Renner notes the danger of too much introspection or internal monologue with first-person POV. If the character spends too much time telling us what he or she is thinking and feeling, it can sound more like a confessional than a story. When using this perspective, be sure to give a healthy smattering of ‘show don’t tell’ (See Post 6). For example, use action or dialogue to show us what the character thinks and feels.

Author Intrusions

An author intrusion occurs when you ‘express a personal opinion about a character, situation or scene’ or ‘describe anything your character could not be aware of’ (Rob Parnell). While this can occur in any novel, Renner notes that it might be a particular problem when using first-person POV. As writers, it’s natural to put something of ourselves into our manuscripts. Just be sure that if there’s a first-person political rant in your novel, it’s relevant for your character and not merely something you want to get off your chest.

Can you think of any other pros or cons of using first-person POV? I’d love to hear your comments.

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